Oklahoma Becomes 46th State
Oklahoma Becomes 46th State
On November 16, 1907, Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory were merged to create the state of Oklahoma.
For more than 100 years, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians had lived in close proximity to Europeans in the southeastern U.S. These people had adopted a great deal of European culture and were known as the Five Civilized Tribes. In 1819, the U.S. government began pressuring the Five Civilized Tribes to move west to Oklahoma. At that time, Oklahoma was mostly unpopulated. The government built Fort Towson and Fort Gibson, and forced the Five Tribes to move there.
The Five Civilized Tribes were given control of all of Oklahoma except the Panhandle. Treaties stated the Indians would own the lands “as long as grass shall grow and rivers run.” Each tribe developed its own legislature, courts, laws, and capital. Farms and ranches were established, and churches and schools were built. Treaties protected the tribes from white settlement – until the Civil War.
The Five Civilized Tribes owned slaves. Originally from the South, they were invited to join the Confederacy. In 1861, some of the Indians entered into an alliance with the Confederacy. The leader of the Cherokee Indians, Chief John Ross, formed a brigade of Indians to fight for the South. Stand Watie, a Cherokee leader, became a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. A small number of Indians chose to fight for the Union. After the Civil War, the U.S. government forced the Indians to relinquish their lands in the West as a punishment for supporting the Confederacy.
The land bordering the Indian Territory was quickly filled with white settlers. White cattle ranchers began driving their herds across these fertile lands as they traveled from Texas to rail centers in Kansas. Over 6 million longhorn cattle crossed the Indian land between 1866 and 1885. Cattlemen leased more than 6 million acres of Indian land for five years, but these leases were eventually declared illegal.
After a great deal of pressure from “boomers” (whites who wanted Indian land opened for settlement), the government changed its policy. The U.S. bought three million acres of land from the Creek and Seminole tribes. At noon on April 22, 1899, 1.9 million acres were opened for settlement. Settlers amassed at the border, ready to seize prime land. With a pistol shot, settlers raced into the land. By evening, 50,000 white families had moved to Oklahoma.
Congress established the Oklahoma Territory in May 1890. Over time, the Indians accepted individual allotment of their lands. This meant individuals held land titles, rather than tribes. Land not allotted to Indians was opened for settlement by whites. Oklahoma was often referred to as the Twin Territories. The Indian Territory consisted of the land owned by the Five Civilized Tribes, as well as some other Indian groups. The Oklahoma Territory made up the remaining land. White settlers began demanding access to the Indian land. In 1893, the Dawes Commission was created to negotiate with the Indians and dissolve their nations. The commission helped the Indians incorporate towns and prepare for U.S. citizenship.
In 1905, Indian leaders called a constitutional convention and invited white citizens to participate. A constitution was adopted, but Congress refused to accept the state, instead asking the two territories to form one larger state. Delegates from both territories met in 1906, and created a new constitution. On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma achieved statehood with Guthrie serving as the first capital in 1910.
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